Romero Zombie—the good, the bad, and the remade

I finally did it. I finally took the time to watch every Romero titled zombie film in sequence—including non-Romero remakes. Which means this will probably be my longest blog since my dissertation on Square Pegs. Since my all-time favorite, Night of the Living Dead 1968 (best watched late Halloween night when you’re alone in the house) began the whole craze and as such is an overly discussed “public domain” film, I opted to watch the version everyone hates—the 30th Anniversary Edition with the newly filmed footage (shot in black and white for continuity, of course).

Night of the Living Dead 30th Anniversary Edition

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I’ll never understand the purpose of this “recut,” other than to have a fan get his stink all over the film so he could feel like he was actually a part of making it. From the very opening, it feels like a home-brewed mess. No longer are Barbara and her brother driving to the country cemetery…a brilliant way to start the king of all zombie films. Instead, we get a whole back story about the first zombie we see in the original, who, it has been decided, was a child murderer. And you thought Michael Myers’ white trash childhood in Rob Zombie’s Halloween was blasphemy! Two rednecks transport the child murderer’s body to the cemetery, where the local reverend, as bald and goateed as a singer from a 90s industrial band, is there to give the criminal his last rites. Before the killer can be buried, he comes back to life…I mean, living dead. It’s very cool to see the return of the original actor who played the zombie in 1968 (and eventually went on to reprise his role in his own zombie movie spinoff, FleshEater, in the 1980s), but 30 years later, he probably didn’t need much makeup to look undead. The redneck pair run off in terror and the child murdering zombie begins wandering through the cemetery.

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This actually segues quite smoothly to the original scene of Barbara and her brother pulling up to the cemetery. The audio is cleaned up nicely, but unfortunately, the replacement of the original film score essentially spoils the entire movie’s creepy atmosphere. The film itself looks sharp, and the scene when Barbara goes up the stairs in the farmhouse and sees the dead body is incredibly jolting in this edition. That’s pretty much the only good enhancement here.

The recut unfolds the same as the original with our black hero Ben (unheard of in any films at the time), annoyingly mute Barbara, the young cute guy and his girlfriend who attempt the pickup truck escape, and the asshole hiding out in the basement with his wife and sick daughter. Gruesome body feasting and noises, arms crashing through boarded up windows, a long meat-eating montage—all of Romero’s original visions for a zombie outbreak set the bar for the genre and are still standard clichés in modern zombie films. What stands out most to me though is Ben’s monologue about his first encounter with the undead. His words describing every nuance of a zombie confrontation are words for every zombie filmmaker to live by.

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New footage bookends the film after Ben holes himself up in that mega-creepy basement for those final few moments of the dead coming back. The reverend from the beginning is talking with a reporter while a bunch of hicks are busy shooting any zombies they see. Suddenly, our child murdering zombie reappears and bites the reverend! This leads to a theme that Romero flirts with himself in his later zombie films—religion. We cut to one year later (it doesn’t get any worse than not finishing with the original twist ending), and the reverend is alive and well at a medical center, explaining to the visiting reporter that all he has is the bite wound scar on his face because the lord was protecting him. And that’s it. That’s the final message of the recut. Everyone except for the righteous is paying for their sins.

Night of the Living Dead 1990

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For the first remake of the original classic, Romero wrote the screenplay, but handed the directing over to his special effects master Tom Savini (who also acted in the 1978 sequel Dawn of the Dead and had a cameo in Dawn of the Dead 2004). This is one perfect remake, sticking close to the original with just enough unique rewrites to keep it fresh. Not surprisingly, Savini’s zombies, gore, and scares are all top notch.

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Changes are noticeable right from the start, with the first zombie not actually being a zombie, but more of a red herring to scare us when the real zombie actually lunges into view. Barbara at least fights back against the zombie this time, and the brother’s head-to-headstone contact is super brutal. And there isn’t just one zombie. Barbara is chased by a few, including one who, for some reason, has the entire back of his clothes ripped off to expose his mega-hairy ass. WTF? Someone has a sense of humor. And I like it! Hot zombie ass.

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The farmhouse is a great clone of the one from the original, and this time around, Barbara has some seriously awesome encounters with zombies in the house before Ben even arrives. Ben, portrayed by Tony Todd of Candyman fame, gives the same cool monologue about his first encounter with zombies, while Barbara eventually goes from mute to a bad ass bitch like Ripley in Aliens. The cute young guy character from the first film isn’t as cute in this film and much more of a nervous nelly, and the asshole from the basement is almost a caricature. He ends up in an all-out gunfight with Barbara and Ben as the film winds down, which makes the twist on the original twist ending so much more satisfying—and all the more reason to watch this remake.

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Also presented here is a theme that has become a staple for Romero’s series—rednecks making sport out of the zombie infestation, taunting them in a pen and hanging them from trees for target practice, proving that humanity is just as barbaric as the undead.

Night of the Living Dead 3D (2006)

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With no input from Romero, this film is to Night of the Living Dead what Texas Chainsaw The Next Generation was to that series: a hot mess!!! It’s essentially blasphemy to the original story, but it’s still a totally watchable zombie film with zombies that are awesomely ghoulish, looking like they walked right off the set of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” Hot.

For starters, the old skool blue/red 3D glasses technology gets bad fast. The depth looks excellent, but anything that’s supposed to be coming at you never fully succeeds. The technology also causes the entire film to look way too dark, so you end up missing a lot of what is going on. You can watch the 3D edition for the novelty, but since these cheap asses couldn’t include both the 3D and 2D versions of the film on one DVD, you have to get a hold of the 2D edition to avoid being burdened by the failing 3D visual.

The film is willing to poke fun at being a remake, so the opening has the original film showing on a television in a roadside convenience store as the new Barbara and her brother drive by on their way to the cemetery. They are supposed to be meeting their mother at the cemetery, but they don’t immediately find her. Barbara’s brother walks off angrily, Barbara notices the coffin shaking, notices her brother fighting off some goons at the car…and then notices him jump in the car and take off, leaving her behind. AWESOME! How people don’t love this movie simply for that twist is beyond me. Anyway, Barbara turns around and there is her mother, all zombified.

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Barbara’s escape leads her to a mortuary this time, where a naked dude is eating a priest (do I even need to insert a joke here?). Then there is b-horror icon Sid Haig as the mortician. He beats off zombies and tells Barbara to run away. Fleeing into the woods, she gets a text…from her brother!!! He sends her his classic line using modern technology, “coming 4U barb.” WTF? You’ll later conclude that he was already part zombie when he wrote that, because the film shows how there’s a delay before fully zombifying that leaves you with some human capabilities.

Farmhouses must be a dime a dozen, because again, it looks exactly the same. Barbara is taken there by some white biker hero (robbing a black actor of the role) who saves her on a dark dirt road from a zombie attack. The house is inhabited by a family of burnouts that makes a living growing and selling pot, so they don’t want to call the cops! They’re busy smoking doobies while watching the original Night of the Living Dead on TV. You get some good 3D joint passing and secondhand 3D pot smoke here, so be sure to inhale. Who am I kidding? You don’t even need to get high to watch this remake, because it’s a total fricking trip!

Most of the characters from the original are sort of represented here. The daughter lives in the house this time (not in the basement) and gets bitten when she sneaks out of the house. The young couple dies in the pickup truck as always, but that’s only after having sexy times in the barn (the hot-bodied naked guy made me forget all about the cute but fully clothed guy from the original film).

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When someone gets bit, the dad finally says, “When the dead walk, you gotta call the cops.” He has no cell phone and makes political references to them as “big brother” tracking devices used to catch Bin Laden. Such a topical and timely film. He also asks the white hero if he knows how to use a gun, to which the whitey replies, “Of course. I grew up on video games.” I would have been ecstatic if he had instead said, “Of course. I grew up playing House of the Dead.

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Finally, Sid Haig proves his role wasn’t just a mere cameo to draw the big box-office bux. He arrives at the farmhouse to explain why the dead are coming to life. This seems like the film’s twist, but there is another coming that you would swear was stolen by George Romero himself for Survival of the Dead. After a disappointingly short-lived (so-to-speak) meat-eating montage, there’s a ridiculously curt ending. As if to make up for it, you get a cheesy thrill if you sit through all the credits. I don’t hate this film, but I did feel a little cheated by the abrupt ending and its attempt to reimagine the original film’s ending.

Dawn of the Dead 1978

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The most debatable film in zombie history. Is it the ultimate zombie epic satire, or one of the worst excuses for a horror film ever? Obviously there’s no definitive answer, because it depends on what you want from a zombie movie…a frightening experience or two hours of social commentary shoved down your throat to make sure you “get it.” Since my opinion about this film is pretty clear, I’m going to talk about this one the MOST. You know, to show demonstrate how long and boring it is.

I absolutely love about the first 20 minutes, which begins in the heat of the nation’s zombie chaos, at a television station in turmoil. The live debate taking place in the studio echoes the film clips on the television in the original Night of the Living Dead nicely. Romero doesn’t seem to concern himself with the ten year span between films, because it appears the zombie outbreak is still a recent occurrence. The men debating get into the “rules” of zombie lore to, you know, refresh viewers’ memories or give you a heads-up if you never saw the first film. But the focus is on Fran, who works at the station, and her man, Stephen, who tells her that he wants them to escape the madness by stealing a station helicopter on the roof.

Meanwhile, a gang of special ops is planning to bust into a local tenement building. Immediately focusing on his obsession with race and class, Romero has white members of the special ops gang spewing derogatory terms about the black and Latin tenants. An all-out gun fight ensues and bright red blood and gore is abundant. But the real fun begins inside the building.

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The sequence that follows is most probably the inspiration for [REC] and Quarantine, because it’s such a strong and horrific concept that deserves a whole movie of its own. The special ops take on a hoard of infected in the apartments and on the stairwell. Sure, the zombies simply have their faces painted with blue makeup, but at the moment you can overlook the poor makeup jobs because the tight quarters make for such a tense adrenaline rush and some seriously gory flesh-eating. After a priest informs the special ops that he’s been giving the dead last rites in the basement, they go down and take care of business, which provides us with classic arms-through-boards zombie action and then a heinous sight: the dead wrapped up in bloody, writhing sacks with the not-wrapped up dead feasting on some nice juicy human bones. Heads are blasted to put a stop to the madness.

As often is the case, Romero offers us a black hero in special ops member Peter, along with his white buddy Roger. They plan to run away (essentially going AWOL) with Fran and Stephen. They are stopped by two cops on the roof, one being Joe Pilato—who plays a major role in the next film in Romero’s series (as a different character)! The cops agree to keep hush about them stealing a helicopter since they are doing some stealing of their own before heading off to “the island…any island,” as they put it. Interesting.

As the foursome makes a helicopter getaway, Romero exploits the concept of white trash rednecks using zombies for sport while guzzling beer and partying. Eventually, the foursome lands at a deserted refueling station and we are treated to another awesome suspenseful, atmospheric zombie scenario. The soundtrack here is excellent, and we even get treated to zombie children in one of the hangars. The ONLY laughable part of this scene is when Stephen and Fran get attacked and Stephen does this spastic stiff armed swing at the zombie while wielding a hammer, and they both end up landing on the ground. A total WTF moment.

Once back on their stolen helicopter, and considering they have defected, the foursome decides to make their own way in the world. They spot a mall, the latest craze in 1978, because Peter is like, “Whadat???” And here begins the part of the film that the video game Dead Rising blatantly rips off, including landing on the roof, zombies all over the mall, making use of all the supplies a mall has to offer for survival, and “safe” staff-only zones and not-so-safe warehouse and storage areas. We are also treated to the first verbal social message: a rhetorical “Why do they come here” is spoken and Peter (who didn’t even know what a mall was a few minutes before) answers something like, “Memory, instinct, things they used to do. This place is important to them.”

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After such a phenomenal opening and setup for the film, things go downhill as soon as the guys turn on the mall muzak…which remains the soundtrack for much of the film. Nothing sucks the tension out of a zombie film like muzak. To further drag the film into farce, we are presented with goofy zombies tripping and falling on escalators and into fountains, and Peter and Roger going on a looting spree of the mall, hooting and howling happily while sliding down escalator banisters. Makes it kind of hard to take the swarms of zombies surrounding them seriously.

Stephen sets out on his own to catch up with his buddies, providing us with another brilliant, chilling moment in a boiler room—great soundtrack, shadows, lighting, zombie p.o.v., Stephen running out of bullets. However, when the three men meet up, it’s more laughing, hooting and boys-will-be-boys boasting as they figure out a way to get back to their safety zone without leading the zombies to it. YAWN. Not even a gory screwdriver to a zombie’s ear can save this moment, especially thanks to the funky soundtrack right out of an episode of Baretta.

Fran, left alone in the safe zone, is not as safe as she seems, and there’s more tension as her domicile is invaded by a fricking blue faced Hare Krishna zombie that figures out how to open doors. Once the others save her, the foursome hooks up televisions and radios, we learn Fran is pregnant (yet smoking!!!), and Peter offers to abort it (where’s that screwdriver when you need it?). Fran and Stephen argue over such a decision, and she says she wants out of the mall because to her it’s a prison while the others seem to think it is a safe and neat place. She doesn’t want to be a den mother, wants a gun of her own, and wants to be in on any plans the men hatch. She also wants to learn how to fly the helicopter. Smart woman…followed by stupid slapstick: newscast voice-over talking about the zombies only eating the living, not each other, having motorized instincts and using simple tools—as we watch zombies playing HOCKEY on a rink in the mall.

Then there’s the great truck plan–BP TRUCKS!!!! BP trucks in a movie about the destruction of our civilization? Romero’s a prophet. Anyway, the Baretta music starts up again, Roger is all cocky and macho, they drive trucks all over the parking lot as part of their not-so well-oiled plan, Roger forgets a bag in one of the trucks, Peter gets pissed at him for not focusing, they go back for it and…Roger gets bit. Twice. Dawn of the Dead worshippers claim you really care about the characters in this film. I don’t give a flying zombie head about Roger. He’s an asshole.

Next thing you know, they’re off on another task to lock the main doors of the mall so no one else can get in and steal their crap. And get this. They drag the slowly “dying” Roger around in a wheel barrow, equipped with guns so he can shoot at zombies that get in their way. He also has to hotwire a display model car in the center of the mall for them to get around in quickly. All this to the cheesy sounds of 70s action movie music, followed by a cheesy 1970s film montage of them setting up house in the mall as muzak blares. They clean up all the twice dead zombies and put them in freezers before food shopping, roller skating, banking, clothes shopping, and giving each other haircuts to the strains of banjo and silent film soundtrack music. There’s one standout moment during this montage: the guys playing classic video games like Outlaw and Night Driver, an Atari symbol clearly visible on the arcade machines. Like zombies, Atari never dies!

Giving us a glimpse at what made Romero’s original film so frightening, we are treated to a totally silent (thankfully) moment in the empty mall, with zombies clawing on the outside glass doors trying to get in. So much potential lost. Peter makes yet another social statement as they watch the zombies: “They want to be in here, they don’t remember why.” Yeah, we know, Peter. You kinda said that already. He goes on, adding, “When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk here.”

And by that, it appears he means Roger, who tells Peter not to shoot him until it’s clear he is officially coming back as a zombie, although he’s going to try not to come back at all. If only it were that easy, Roger. Next thing you know, Roger is covered with a blanket…that begins to rise slowly and eerily. Peter takes care of business…and then buries Roger in a garden in the center of the mall.

We get more of a “civilization” montage. Peter serves Stephen and Fran a gourmet dinner, both of them dressed to the nines for some fine dining. They take photos to “drop off at the drugstore.” They live in the full-room furniture displays in one of the stores. Peter plays racquet ball on the roof. Fran does her makeup and plays fashion model. Fran cooks meals, Stephen flips through record albums. The threesome begins getting bored with each other and mall life. And so do I. YAWN.

However, there’s yet another complication. Makeup wizard Tom Savini, looking fine in tight 70s jeans, portrays the leader of a motorcycle gang that is watching the mall. They look like a bunch of clowns. These are no Hell’s Angels. They bust into the mall—while also letting the undead flood it. Carnival music plays, the gang throws pies in the faces of the zombies. Cavalry music plays, the gang rides up and down the mall taking down zombies with sporting goods. They loot, they smash stuff just for fun. Stephen’s materialistic greed shows through as he speaks out loud so that we dumb viewers once again get the message of consumerism: these thieves are taking his stuff and everything he worked so hard to build. So he starts shooting, beginning a threeway war: Stephen and Peter, the motorcycle gang, the zombies.

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And finally it gets good again as Romero taps into what made his first film so great, with the added bonus of gory red color. It’s a food court full of guts, disemboweling, and serious innards. But most highly effective is the claustrophobic confrontation between Stephen and a bunch of zombies in an elevator. But why stick with a good thing? Hell, let’s bring back the nonsense muzak. Let’s have the zombies go shopping! UGH! Enough already!

Stephen, looking mighty sexy as a zombie, recollects where “home” is in the mall, so he leads the other zombies there. Peter is all ready to give up and tells Fran to escape by herself in the helicopter. But she waits…and waits…and waits…cheesy army action movie music playing as Peter decides he wants to live! He wants to live! He fights off Stephen zombie and friends and grabs onto the helicopter just as Fran is lifting off. More goofy music accompanies the credits and scenes of zombies killing time in the mall, leaving you with the thought, “Did I just watch a horror movie?”

At least Romero tries to make up for the nonsense, leaving us with a creepy tolling bell and the moans of zombies. Unfortunately, too little too late.

Dawn of the Dead 2004

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Since this is a standalone film and not a sequel, the opening must establish the initial outbreak. Instead of the television station and tenement building scenario, we begin at a hospital, where Ana, our heroine, is a nurse about to go home for the day—but not before she notices a whole lot of sick people in the ER. Once home, she and her husband do sexy times and then go to bed. What happens next is SO realistic in its pace and intensity, setting the tone for the entire film. Their little girl comes into the room, daddy thinks she’s sick, she bites the hell out of him, blood gushes and mom screams, then locks horrifying zombie daughter out of the room so she can attend to daddy. So begins Ana’s new life in a new world….

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Ana soon hooks up with a cop named Kenneth (Ving Rhames), a man named Michael, and Mehki Phifer and his pregnant wife (a nod to Fran’s delicate state in the original). They find the nearest safe spot…an empty mall, which takes us to the theme of the original film. Only difference is, this film makes you feel the terror of exploring a seemingly empty mall, borrowing the new millennium breed of zombies—the runners—much more frightening than the blue faced clumsy zombies of the original.

The unsettling quiet is brief…Michael discovers a hunched over man gnawing away at a body. The man/zombie turns around, and it’s like, HELLO. Opening zombie encounter in the Resident Evil video game anyone? That’s pretty much it. From here on in, it’s almost non-stop tension and fantastic zombie action. They meet some not so friendly security guards who were already holed up in the mall and don’t want people impinging on their stuff (a theme of the original), so that tension and distrust becomes a subplot/conflict of the film. More nods to the original come when the gang is watching television news and a reporter is speaking with a cop, played by none other than Tom Savini. Wahoo! No motorcycle clowns this time! A second television cameo features Ken Foree – who played Peter in the original – as a preacher, delivering an adaptation of his “no room left in hell so the dead will walk the earth” speech. AWESOME, even if he does blame sex out of wedlock, gays, and more of life’s finer pleasures for the coming of the zombies.

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This film unfolds at breakneck speed, with new characters arriving (in—guess what? A BP truck!) to further complicate matters. Some are merely there to serve as victims, but a core group allows us to relate to them and their plights. Ving Rhames, the cop, has a not so good history with Mekhi Phifer, who is trying to turn his life around and bring a baby into a better world (you know, one without zombies). One girl has to say goodbye to her bitten father before they shoot him—another moral conflict for the characters. You even care about some poor schmuck stuck on top of a building across the parking lot, even though you never hear him speak.

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There’s a much tighter montage of the people in the mall setting up a home life than in the original film. Ving plays chess with the guy across the way with the help of message boards and binoculars. People shop, have sex, and play target practice with zombies down in the parking lot. There’s even an older gay character who first tries on women’s clothing (always has to be some sort of stereotype), and then later talks to the security guards about his first gay encounter…while they are shirtless, which is kind of funny.

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This all serves as a needed reprieve before the horror mounts. The electricity in the mall goes out, and a group of the guys is forced to go down to find the generator, and there’s horror in a baby store!

After that, it’s a non-stop rush of action. The guy across the way is starving, so they lower a poor dog down into the sea of zombies to take food over to him because they conclude that zombies don’t like dog meat. Personally, I would have let the guy starve! They hatch an escape plan involving supped up buses, chainsaws, a boat, a deserted island, and HOARDS of zombies. The sight of the undead going down like dominoes after an explosion is one of the best mass-zombie massacres ever set to celluloid. The end of this film is so hot. And no motorcycle clowns! I can not stress that enough.

Day of the Dead 1985

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Okay. After Night of the Living Dead, this is my absolute favorite of Romero’s zombie films. Shocking, considering I usually HATE the presence of the army in a horror film (they ruined 28 Days Later, that’s for sure). The chills and thrills begin right from the start with our heroine, Sarah, waking up in an empty, quiet room, walking over to a calendar on a wall…and having a load of zombie hands bust through the wall…all to the great sounds of an 80s synth horror score. Don’t worry. It’s just a dream. She wakes up in a helicopter with her melting pot of buddies—a white dude, Latin guy, and black guy. It’s like Breyer’s Triple Chocolate ice cream. Lucky lady.

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The foursome soon lands in a very Resident Evil 3 video game-esque deserted city like Racoon City: empty streets, isolation, rubbish blowing in the breeze, nasty looking zombies ambling along and groaning—and an inexplicable alligator on a stairway that is not hungry for zombies. Odd.

The foursome arrives at an underground bunker filled with army men. In this sub-civilization, filled with drab halls reminiscent of those in the safe zones of the Dawn mall, zombies are being herded in underground tunnels for experiments. The army men lure them into gated pens and snag them with collars on a pole to bring them to a scientist, which makes for some tense moments since these zombies are much more aggressive than we’ve seen in other films. Of course, the army men drip with machismo, enjoying the zombie “slavery.” But the Latin guy, who is losing his shit in a world gone mad, slips up and almost lets a zombie loose on an army guy. None of the army men likes this dude, and derogatory Latin terms are used (Romero is obsessed with hate language). And, as always, it is the black character who gets philosophical, talking about a “higher power” to Sarah.

The main conflict in this film is between the scientists and the army men. Captain Rhodes, leader of the army men, is played perfectly by Joseph Pilato (who had the small role as a cop in the original Dawn). He is NOT happy with their proximity to zombies, nor the type of research being done on zombies. Our “mad” scientist is trying to domesticate them! We meet pet zombie Bub in the lab in a jump scare, followed by some good zombie gross outs.

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The scientist is making huge progress with Bub. He gives him a copy of Salem’s Lot to read. He also hands him a gun—and Bub seems to remember it well. Captain Rhodes feels threatened by this, and when he points his own gun at Bub, the pet zombie feels equally threatened. Personally, I have to side with the dick of an army guy here. How humiliating would it be to get shot by a zombie instead of just getting chewed out???

The conflict escalates and all hell breaks loose. The army men take over and ban scientists from the safe zone, forcing them out into the zombie infested tunnels with no weapons. Their escape through the dark tunnels is a gory zombie treat, with plenty of atmospheric blue and red Dario Argento lighting. Naturally, the zombies invade the safe zone, which means its every army man for himself. Flesh is eaten in some of the absolute best pre-CGI special effects of the series. Unbelievable.

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And of course, there’s a showdown between Bub and Captain Rhodes. When Rhodes gets hurt and is hobbling down the hall, you realize exactly where they got the hurt character hobble in the Resident Evil games! I was yelling, “Take a green herb, Rhodes!” at the screen. He didn’t hear me. His death (and actor Joe Pilato’s famous ad libbed “Choke on it!!!!” line) is the absolute payoff in this fantastic entry in the series.

Day of the Dead 2008

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Is it a remake or just an attempt to cash on in the name of the Romero film? Well, it focuses mainly on army soldiers. There’s a doctor/scientist character. There are underground tunnels filled with zombies. And there’s a zombie that becomes somewhat of a pet to one of the main characters. So, it definitely feels like it tips its hat to the original movie. But just like the Dawn remake, Day 2008 is its own entity and not a sequel to any other film, with the zombie breakout igniting in this film and not a pre-existing condition. Adding a little confusion to the whole sequel debate is the casting of Dawn remake’s Ving Rhames in a small role, but not as the same character (and this may be a nod to Joe Pilato’s appearance in both the original Dawn/Day movies). Definitely go into this film not expecting a remake of the original Romero film and you might actually realize there’s a good old fun, gory, and suspenseful zombie film to be found.

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Mena Suvari and Nick Cannon are the two main army characters heading the evacuation of a small town before ending up at a medical center, where the first part of the film takes place. The breakout begins and things get gruesome quickly. These zombies are grisly looking and faster than ever before, not to mention, they can jump and crawl on the ceiling! Kind of ridiculous, but just go with it.

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As the army soldiers are trying to escape the hospital, other main characters are trapped at a radio station on Elm Street. Hokey! Of course, the two groups eventually meet up, which begins what amounts to one of the longest chase scenes ever. This film is almost non-stop action with just tastes of character development and character relationships, which is pretty much the formula for all modern day zombie films. The typical moral dilemma of whether to kill one of the main characters after he’s been bitten turns into this movie’s “Bub” situation, which is a good melding of two original concepts from the other films.

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The suspense, zombie action, and grisly gore is plentiful in this film, with a small dose of bad CGI that never consumes the whole film. I really don’t know why people can’t separate this film’s reputable title from the film itself, because it gets loads of hate but is really a satisfying experience for zombie lovers.

Land of the Dead 2005

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While it’s the first official new millennium sequel to the Romero series, 2005’s Land of the Dead feels more like an imitator inspired by Romero’s original series. Land’s tone, pacing, zombies, gore, and characterization are much more in keeping with Dawn 2004 and other zombie films of the new millennium.

Avoiding a “real-time” timeline that would make this film set 20 years after Day 1985, Land simply begins with a generic “some time ago” voice-over recap of Romero’s zombie story arch thus far, then brings us to the movie’s present with a simple “Today.”

And today begins with zombies in a graveyard (an ode to his first film, perhaps?). Zombies have overrun the majority of the world, interacting with societal surroundings in undead form as they did in everyday life. They also seem to have a leader—a big scary fricking black zombie attendant at the local gas station. He’s definitely one of the most striking and memorable zombies in the Romero series, right up there with Bub. He’s also the first African-American to star in a Romero film as a zombie instead of one of the heroes.

The bigger picture here is that Dennis Hopper is the king of the human race, having created a great skyscraping metropolis for all the high society folk, while lower classes live in some serious ghetto situations outside the building, with just an electrified fence between them and the zombie population (I’m having history class feudal system flashbacks–as well as a foreseeing of this country’s future….). Romero makes sure to throw in the extremist religious group standing on the streets preaching about the end of the world He’s still flirting with the religious aspects of a zombie outbreak, but not taking it on fully.

Our heroes this time belong to a rogue group that goes out into the zombie world to bring supplies back to the people, amongst them Cholo (John Leguizamo—which conveniently allows Romero to throw in some anti-Latin bias, as always) and lead character Riley (who seems to intentionally resemble the lead blond character from the non-Romero Dawn remake). There’s also a very unique twist here—one of their gang has a burned face, which makes him look very much like a zombie. They drive a mega supped up truck-tank thing that is very reminiscent of the supped up buses in Dawn remake.

land of dead john leg

The looting sequences have some great zombie scares and action, and of course, someone in their group gets bit, which leads to a moral conflict between the characters about shooting him (most close in its delivery to the character conflict in the Dawn remake). There’s even more familiar moral ground covered in a sleazy bar, where caged zombies are used as entertainment…once they throw Asia Argento into the cage. Dario’s real life daughter plays Hopper’s fictional life daughter in this film, which is why the angry everyman is feeding her to the zombies. The little person population gets some recognition in the post-zombie world, in the form of the ring leader of this barbaric game (why they gotta make the little man the baddy???).  Riley saves Asia Argento and the little man gets blown away. Decades after “Short People” was a controversial hit for Randy Newman, and little people are still given no respect—even in a fricking zombie movie!

land of dead cast

Picking up on the payback game Bub began in 1985, the big bad black zombie leads all the other zombies to the great glowing tower in the sky—to seek revenge on the humans who are living high and mighty. In fact, Romero adds a new twist to zombie lore—at least, new for his films. Heck, even House of the Dead features zombies in the water! Romero’s zombies decide to take to the water, dropping right off the docks and apparently walking across the ocean bottom. Sadly, we don’t get to watch the zombie water sports, just them rising up out of the water once they’ve reached their destination. But, hey. Zombies crawling from the surf are always scary. And the zombie scares and gore are plentiful in this film, including a gruesome scene of a zombie digging guts out of a body…through the mouth! How horribly invasive! And watch out for the totally awesome PEZ zombie moment. Classic.

land of dead water

Land really should have been called “Revenge of the Dead.” These zombies are fighting mad, and teach the rich snobs a lesson about how hurtful an exclusive country club can be to the shunned. One the dust clears from all the slaughter, our remaining heroes watch as the zombies begin migrating. Riley throws in an ever-necessary social comment: “They’re just looking for a place to go. Just like us.” Poor homeless zombies. Try the mall.

Diary of the Dead 2007

diary-of-the-dead

Throw away any thoughts of Romero being the genius of zombie films and just enjoy this throwaway flick, which tries to demonstrate how modern technology, like digital video cameras and the Internet, influences human behavior during a zombie outbreak.

Since this film opens with the zombie outbreak, I doubt we’re supposed to assume it is taking place at the same time that Barb is running away from a zombie in a black and white cemetery somewhere in the countryside. Romero jumps on board with the whole cameraman’s p.o.v. that is the big craze in horror these days, and focuses the camera on a group of bratty college kids. This one is definitely a modern mainstream horror film for teen audiences and not some grand chapter in his zombie epic. These zombies are just zombies, with no further exploration of the conditioned zombies who go on pumping gas, shooting guns, reading Stephen King books, taking escalators…

The plot is simple. A group of college filmmakers are shooting a mummy movie in the woods when the outbreak begins. One dude decides he’s going to film everything he witnesses so he can upload it on the net to keep the public informed about what’s really going on. However, the narrator of the footage is one of the female leads, who had to finish his project for him (we can guess why before even getting to the end of the film). She throws in that she has added music to “scare you,” which is a glaring reminder that we are most definitely watching a movie and not “real” footage.

diary of dead zombie attack

One kid immediately suggests heading for the safety of his secluded home, and some of the friends join him. But most of the friends instead set off on a pretty random trip across country in an RV, with one of their professors along for the ride. And this RV adventure is loaded with delicious zombie fun. They run over zombies in the road, the chick driving feels guilty, she shoots herself but doesn’t die, they end up in a hospital that has been deserted…except the zombies. Next, our group stops at a barn because they need to repair their RV, are helped by a mute Amish guy, face off against zombies in the barn, and witness one of the best self-sacrifices ever. A gang of black dudes helps our traveling group for a while, giving them shelter and food. Of course, it turns out there is a soon-to-be zombie in their midst, so our traveling group hightails it out of there. On to the home of the narrator, who is hoping to find her family alive and well. Can you guess what she finds instead? After that, they get RV-jacked…by a bunch of army dudes! But these soldiers just take their supplies and are nice enough to leave them guns.

diary of dead hospital kill

Finally, the group heads for their friend’s home/mansion, which he believed was a fortress that would be impenetrable. But when they get there, the front door is open, he’s still in his mummy costume, alone, and acting very weird. This final part of the film in the mansion is like something right out of the first Resident Evil video game. Much of the footage is from the perspective of the home security monitors, making for very creepy, fixed camera angles. Unfortunately, things get really stupid. The chick who was playing the femme fatale in their mummy movie project ends up being chased through the woods by the mummy—who has become a zombie (confusing, I know), while the cameraman continues to just film her! She’s screaming that this isn’t his film, it’s real, she beats the mummy zombie down with a “Don’t mess with Texas” punchline, then jumps in the RV and takes off to the strains of banjo music, pretty much telling the filmmaker to go screw himself. Very campy.

The remaining kids are stuck at a zombie party with no ride home. The final piece of footage in the film is of red-blooded Americans shooting zombies for sport. So Romero does a last minute switcheroo from the impact of cold technology on a zombie nation to his classic theme of the inhumanity of humanity.

Survival of the Dead 2009 –

But what happens if YOU bite the ZOMBIE instead?

survival-of-the-dead

Survival of the Dead is definitely right up there with such masterpieces as House of the Dead. The Blu-Ray has a ridiculous option of “Living” or “Dead” menus that, as far as I can tell after maneuvering through both of them, are only different in their background graphics–a sign of desperate gimmickry. There’s also a pretty entertaining intro starring George himself, who finishes the skit by pointing out that the film is a “horror movie with funny moments. Don’t forget to laugh.” Oh believe me George…we are. This movie does everything that a zombie movie can do to be a surefire SyFy network original, from horrible CGI and ridiculous plot to ripping off other films…including every other film in Romero’s own series.

survival of dead cast

The best part of this film actually IS the humor. There are some genuinely funny moments, but the unintentionally laughable scenarios and cheap gore overshadow the appreciation of it. This film is a satire on the classic Hatfields vs. McCoys feud…with zombies! This time around, we’re on an isolated island where everyone is apparently either a Muldoon or a Flynn. So Muldoon wants to keep zombie family members around by training them to eat animals like any civilized human being (I wonder if he would disown them if they were gay zombies). Flynn believes the zombies need to be stopped with a nice shot in the head. Although it’s modern day, these two men and their posses are straight out of the Old West. And Flynn, while a great character, most often talks like a pirate! Argh!

Romero completely screws with the souls of continuity sticklers with one simple message at the beginning of the film: Six Days After The Dead Began To Walk. Six days??? The very first night the living dead began to walk was in 1968, when life was still black and white!!!  And only a couple of years ago, there were video diaries of the dead being posted on the internet! So it has to be at least 30 years since the dead began to walk, dammit!!! But actually, this film does tie-in directly to Diary, as it follows the gang of rogue military men who hijacked the RV! Amongst their ranks is one woman—a lesbian who masturbates in her jeep while talking to the other guys, who politely let her take car of her business because they completely understand that she’s not into men (only in the movies). She’s the fully realized army dyke Michelle Rodriguez should have been in Resident Evil.

A bunch of crap happens, they shoot people, a young kid joins up with them, they find a load of money, and of course…they head for that isolated island—maybe the one the cops referred to on the roof of the television station in Day 1985???

survival of dead guts

Romero rehashes everything in this film. I expected these army brats to find the remains of the gang from the Dawn remake on this isolated island. Zombies continue to walk along the ocean bottom as they did in Land. The conflict of killing someone you love after they turn into a zombie is presented to the point of overkill here—you know, in the same way Romero ruined the original Dawn with his satire on consumerism. Like—we’re not DUMB. We got it after the first five minutes!!! And for more undead overkill, zombies are once again tortured for sport to remind us that humans are just as animalistic as zombies. Only this time, the CGI doesn’t even make it fun. You have to see the video game-like scene of still living (dead) disembodied zombie heads on sticks being used as target practice. I reached for my Playstation 2 Guncon and began taking pot shots at them until I remembered I was actually watching a movie.

Romero picks up the study in “conditioned behavior” after ignoring it in Diary. There are zombies chained up all over the island, sure to get repetitive strain injury as they endlessly push plows, deliver the mail, even cook dinner for Muldoon. But none of them can fill the void left by the loss of our beloved Bub, the original pet zombie. It’s like when they started making Chia SpongeBob and other posers like that. Romero almost finally finds God this time around, because the Lord’s bidding plays a part in character motivation. But once again, this rich and complex concept is not well-developed, instead coming across as a mere device to get religion-haters to role their eyes.

Just as the film winds down in an all-out old western shootout, we’re finally treated to the climactic zombie chaos, and it’s total paint-by-numbers. Digital paint, of course. Not much new in the way of zombie thrills here, and of course there’s the last minute, traditional dismemberment and bowel eating sequence. How is it that Romero pulled off this kind of visual horror better 25-years-ago? Can we simply blame high definition for revealing all the imperfections of special effects?

Really, the most important addition to Romero’s cannon of zombie rules in this film is this: What happens if you bite the zombie instead? Does he turn into a human? You’ll just have to watch to see. So wait a couple of months and you’ll be able to check it out on SyFy, most likely. There is one way Romero could have made this film a classic in the series and earned back his King of the Dead crown, at least in my eyes. He should have had a zombie walk by with shitty Dawn of the Dead blue face makeup, at which point one of the characters would scoff, “That isn’t scary at all!” before smashing the zombie in the face with a pie….

Night of the Living Dead 3D: Re-Animation (2012)

night-of-the-living-dead-3d-reanimation

By the same director as Night of the Living Dead 3D, this follow-up isn’t worthy of the NOTLD 3D name! “Re-animator” Jeffrey Combs and “Wishmaster” Andrew Divoff don’t help either, especially since they spend a majority of the Night of the Living Dead 3D: Re-Animation sitting across from each other talking. Not kidding.

night of living dead reanimation talk

The other part of the movie is a group of kids chilling and talking. The zombie action doesn’t start until about 1 hour into this 1-1/2 hour movie. The zombies look awesome…the blood is all CGI. The whole movie takes place in a Funeral Home. There are about 20 zombies in total, no gut-munching.

night of living dead reanimation zombie

Worst of all—there’s anti-Tea Party sarcasm and a Sarah Palin clone. People need to let go already. People need to forget her already. Otherwise it just makes them backwards thinkers as well. I don’t want to think about or see any reminder of the existence of Palin or her crazies, even in mockery. Especially in my escapist world of horror—my happy place. Seriously.

Also see my thoughts on companion films

MIMESIS: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD

and

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD RESURRECTION

About Daniel

I am the author of the horror anthologies CLOSET MONSTERS: ZOMBIED OUT AND TALES OF GOTHROTICA and HORNY DEVILS, and the horror novels COMBUSTION and NO PLACE FOR LITTLE ONES.

I am also the founder of BOYS, BEARS & SCARES, a facebook page for gay male horror fans! Check it out and like it at www.facebook.com/BoysBearsandScares.

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